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Susan Estrich
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The Femininity Factor


Are Republican women politicians more "feminine" than Democratic women politicians?

That's the conclusion of a new study by UCLA researchers, who found that Republican women are so much more "feminine" that college students were able to accurately predict party affiliation just by looking at the woman.

The "Michele Bachmann" effect, they call it.

Of course, Bachmann did not fare very well in her presidential campaign, although I think that was for reasons having nothing to do with her facial features. Neither did Sarah Palin, whom most men I know (but fewer women) consider to be very attractive.

The authors also point out that being feminine isn't necessarily a positive for women, since studies have found that people tend to think of women as either feminine or competent, but not both.

My own review of the studies, over the past 20 years, suggests that the issue is far more nuanced.

Some years ago, a woman who was passed over for a promotion at a Big Eight accounting firm brought suit for gender discrimination after she was told that changing her hairstyle and dressing in a more feminine style might improve her chances the following year. Her claim that this amounted to sex discrimination was upheld by the Supreme Court, which means that no one says things like that anymore, much less writes them down.

But do they think it? Absolutely.

I remember an article from a few years ago in which women CEOs were interviewed, and every one of them, literally, was pictured in pastel colors. Yellow was the hands-down favorite. So cheerful and non-threatening. For women seeking top positions, the challenge is to appear feminine, but not too feminine; assertive, but not too aggressive; attractive, but not too sexy. My women students openly admit that they dress for interviews like dates, hoping to look their best: makeup, high heels, a well-fitting suit that shows off their figure. And I always tell them to make sure to wear a shirt under the suit jacket. Form fitting, yes. Cleavage, no.

One year, a group of my students went to a local mall, showed pictures of women they had clipped from a magazine to shoppers and asked them which one they thought was a CEO and which a sales clerk.

The one who looked like a model was thought to be neither; the gal with the pleasing features and short blond bob was the CEO; the overweight woman was the store clerk. Big surprise.

I also remember a piece done by a conservative activist comparing the women Democrats who appear on television with their Republican counterparts. The writer's point (helped along by his rather skewed choice of pictures) was how much better looking the Republicans were.

I don't claim to be a beauty, but I've never seen a worse shot of myself. And the fact that many of these women were chosen precisely because of how they look, rather than because of what they know, was entirely ignored. (After all, does anyone really listen to TV? No, they watch.)

I don't know whether the UCLA students would consider Nancy Pelosi to be feminine. I do. Geraldine Ferraro? Absolutely. Hillary Clinton? Who would even ask that question about a woman who has been a role model for young women of all political persuasions, a woman who is admired around the world?

The fact that serious academics would conduct such a study, and that it would be published in a peer-reviewed journal, gives me pause — and not so much about them (such studies are apparently part of a burgeoning field of research called "social vision," which is not limited to women's facial features), but about the fact that we continue to look at leadership this way. The researchers note that it may be that Republican women's faces are more traditionally pretty because conservatives are more bound by gender stereotyping. Interestingly, they found Democratic men to be more masculine than Republican men, but considered this finding to be "less revealing" for reasons that the press release, at least, did not explain.

The fact that looks play a role in politics is nothing new. John Kennedy won the first televised presidential debate among those watching it, while Richard Nixon won among those listening on the radio. In most presidential elections, the taller candidate wins. But for women especially, the tendency to make judgments based on looks distorts the issues that should govern, creating not simply a glass ceiling but also a mirrored one.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



14 Comments | Post Comment
RE: "Hillary Clinton? Who would even ask that question about a woman who has been a role model for young women of all political persuasions, a woman who is admired around the world?"
Are you talking about the woman who lied about dodging sniper fire as a role model?
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Fri Sep 28, 2012 2:57 AM
How do Margaret Thatcher and/or Eleanor Roosevelt fit into this analysis? How about Angela Merkel or Golda Meir. Let's not limit this to US politicians or living individuals. Aa an initial guess, I'd say these individuals don't fit the proposed pattern very well. But I'm just a Physicist...
Comment: #2
Posted by: Old Navy
Fri Sep 28, 2012 3:49 AM
The middle east is on fire; it is now known that obama, clinton et al have been lying through their teeth about the cause being some ridiculous film ; it is now known that there has been a major security failure by this admin, known that obama's middle east policy and apeasment tactics have utterly failed, known that obama and clinton are in bed with the muslim brotherhood, known that obama is abondoning Israel, known that obama considers the murder of a US Ambassador and navy seals to be just bumps in the road and known that obama thinks that a nuclear Iran is just noise; our economy is accererating even faster into bankruptcy, the general election is almost upon us and all Estrich can find to write about is the "femininity factor" to try to persuade that certain Democrats are to be considered feminine. LOL !
Well so be it. Ann Coulter drew the distinction between conservative and liberal progressive women best as follows " My pretty girl allies [conservatives] stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn fed, no make up,natural fiber, sandal wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pea wagons they call women at the Democratic National Convention"
Pelosi is a dishonest wombat, hilary is not only a dumb as a post but every day looks more and more like the muppet Miss Piggy and as for wasserman shultz one has encountered better looking and more intelligent gargoyles.
Comment: #3
Posted by: joseph wright
Fri Sep 28, 2012 4:56 AM

One can always spot a Democrat, whether male or female, masculine or feminine or somewhere betwixt and between. There is an infallible sure fire method.

The Democrat is the one with his or her hand in someone else's pocket or wallet.
Comment: #4
Posted by: joseph wright
Fri Sep 28, 2012 6:41 AM
Unable to write anything positive about her hero BHO, Susan has now reached the lowest common denominator style of articles. She's not alone, Simon has sunk to the bottom too. This was not a slow newsweek. Surely with QE3, the Middle East crisis, and the latest dismal economic news, we would have expected something better. Guess not.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Sep 28, 2012 9:13 AM
As this is just an empty style piece for the reasons stated above by Chris McCoy lets go back to the two previous pieces.

According to the AJC's national survey re jewish support for obama, reform Jews favored Obama over Romney 68 percent to 23 percent, Conservative Jews 64 percent to 23 percent, and those identifying themselves as "just Jewish" 68 percent to 19 percent.

Entirely blind to the facts and in many ways eerily like Germany of the 1930s

Israel beware, you seem to have few co-religionist friends in the US and you are being sold out by purported co religionists for the sake of liberal progressivism/facism which is an ieology that has always aligned to the left and has always been anti semitic. Go figure !
Comment: #6
Posted by: joseph wright
Fri Sep 28, 2012 10:53 AM
Many long years ago, I wrote a college political science paper that I titled THE PULCHRITUDE FACTOR. My professor, who is now a respected national political pollster at first gave me a C as a grade. When I went to him and protested that he was wrong, we had a little argument about my premise that the winning campaigns always have the best looking women hanging around their headquarters. I challenged him to visit both the local Republican and Democratic headquarters n election night and take pictures of the women who were at each location. The Republicans won in a landslide that year and when we examined the photographs, it was apparant that the Republican headquarters had the better looking women. He then changed my grade to an A and we did not talk about it for a few years but we met for the next presidential election and I goaded him into doing the same photo experiment. This time on election night the Democrats had the best looking women by far and guess what? The Democrats won the election. eight years later the roles reversed again and the Republicans won. It is a strange circumstance that plays itself out every four years. If you want to know who is going to win, Just go to the various political headquarters and find the one with the prettiest girls working there. The Pulchritutde Factor works as a predictor much better than good old fashioned polls. Either that or as I get older and older, I just appreciate beautiful girls more and more. The flowers of the earth. And I love flowers !!!
Comment: #7
Posted by: robert lipka
Fri Sep 28, 2012 7:23 PM
Re: joseph wright Semper Fi
Comment: #8
Posted by: Paul
Fri Sep 28, 2012 7:46 PM
Re: Paul
Semper Fi brother.
Comment: #9
Posted by: joseph wright
Sat Sep 29, 2012 7:13 AM
Robert writing a paper like that sounds like a very good idea. I think just exploring the concept deserves an A. I take it as further proof that people vote for the wrong reasons. Its becoming less and less about the issues and more and more about things like the D and R next to your name, or how good you look, or the color of your skin. Its sad indeed.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Sat Sep 29, 2012 7:27 AM
Re: Chris McCoy
Its becoming less and less about the issues or about the record or about the facts or the real state of the economy or the real state of foreign policy but more and more about how much the media establishment is prepared to lie, to deceive, to cover up, to propagandize, to distort and to utterly fail in its duty to the uninformed and all to support and give credence to the liberal fascist ideology of a proven America hating, business hating, freedom hating, life hating, Constitution hating, absolute failure of a president because (1) he is a black radical liberal media and affirmative action creation and 2 his hatred of freedom and of all things good about America is shared by that liberal fascist media.

The media and the negrophiles in this Republic care more about B then D than the survival of the Republic or about the future of their own children and grandchildren. Its sad indeed!
Comment: #11
Posted by: joseph wright
Sat Sep 29, 2012 9:36 AM
Lady Democrats are as good-looking as Lady Republicans. But no woman looks attractive standing next to a chicken. Everything Obama has done since 9-11 has been chicken-shift: he shifts his position as soon as he sees any danger. The Muslim Brotherhood will promote peace in the Middle East--the embassy's been attacked?!! IT WAS A MOB! IT WAS THE VIDEO! Please don't hurt me! I am brave sitting on the couch watching soldiers on television fight Osama Bin Laden. I can command a flying robot to murder someone in a foreign country. Buck! Buck! I am just eye candy! Buck! Buck! IT WAS THE VIDEO!
Comment: #12
Posted by: Cowboy Jay
Sat Sep 29, 2012 12:57 PM
My wife is beautiful and a Conservative. Nuff said!
Comment: #13
Posted by: Oldtimer
Mon Oct 1, 2012 6:20 AM
I am confounded as to why a self proclaimed feminist who has had plastic surgery would be "give(en) pause" by serious academics conducting this study. It just goes to show that you can legislate and indoctrinate and press feminist ideals into our flesh until your blue in the face, but you cannot change what nature created. The rules of femininity and attractiveness were not created by man. It is engrained in our DNA. Those that are more attractive will always have an edge, sorry, it's just a simple fact. Why else would a successful, intelligent and self assured woman pay to have her face completely overhauled?

Comment: #14
Posted by: Shran
Thu Oct 4, 2012 7:17 AM
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